One of the wonderful things about London, is the access we have to art from all over the world and the opportunity that gives to learn new stuff.
No point lying, until I saw I saw the Anselm Kiefer Royal Academy exhibition posters, the only Anselm I knew was the saint (I went to school in Canterbury), and the only Kiefer was Sutherland. The artist that I have now heard some experts call “colossus of contemporary art” does not necessarily have a public profile here in the UK that reflects that stature. Perhaps due to the controversial nature of some of his work.
Kiefer was born in Germany in 1945 right at the end of the war and grew up in the Black Forest region. Both things that massively influence his work. He first came to attention in the late 60s when he went around Europe performing the Nazi salute in front of various monuments and photographed the act in a series called ‘Occupations’. A shocking, illegal act and the ultimate taboo, especially for a German. Staring darkness straight in the face is a recurring theme. Alongside exploring myths, icons, poetry, philosophy and the deep dark woods of a Grimms Brothers’ fairytale.
His body of work is monumental in scale, topic and medium. Massive paintings, metal sculptures, photography, installations and bookmaking and so much of it. The palette is mainly 50 shades of grey, heavy architecture materials, distressed metal and wood. He doesn’t appear to be resting on his laurels. The exhibition includes several fresh new works specially commissioned for the Royal Academy.
This makes the Anselm Kiefer exhibition sound very “heavy” and it is but so is life. You need to see the works in the flesh to really feel the impact of the scale. Kiefer’s inspiration might be specific, but the themes are universal. How you confront and deal with a horrific past. How you cope when your icons have been perverted. Big epic questions about life and death. Lest we forget…..
Special thanks must go to Kathleen Soriano, the exhibition’s curation, who helped shine a light on the work so it makes sense even if you’re an ignoramus like moi.
Anselm Kiefer Exhibition, £14, Royal Academy of Arts, Burlington House, London W1J 0BD www.royalacademy.org.uk (ends Sunday 14 December 2014)